damZway

Screenwriting

4 posts in this topic

I've read Rand's writings on fiction (Art of Fiction; RM; etc.) but there's not much devoted

specifically to screenwriting of which I'm aware. (I understand that she considers the basic

principles of drama to be at the root of all the forms.) I'm taking classes at NYU and I've

read many of the screenwriting "classics" from Field, McKee, Hunter and others. Most all

of these promote the idea that film is a primarily visual medium as well as encouraging a

formulaic approach to writing -- Aristotle's three acts are broken down into subsections

where certain things must appear at a certain page number. My instructors at NYU express

the same sentiment where words are a distant second to the visual --i.e.; show, but dont tell.

Do you have any better book/course/instructor recommendations for the art of screenwriting?

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Hi,

Before I give you any recommendations for screenwriting references, may I ask which school/department you're in at NYU and what courses you are taking? Since I went to NYU graduate film, it may give me a clue as to how to help you appropriately augment your studies. When I was at NYU film school, their writing department was abysmal. It was indeed a "visual medium" school and we were expected to just write "from the heart" stories that would be visually appropriate for film. Little emphasis was put on any real "process" of screenwriting. Things may have changed, however, and I'd be better equipped to help you if I had some context with regard to your current background in screenwriting and your studies. Off the cuff, I have to say that many of those formulaic theories (touted by the "big guns" you've read already) are fine and helpful--especially if you're writing a formulaic piece. However, it's not the only way to go about writing a script and the steps that are outlined shouldn't be taken too literally in every situation. Also, it would be helpful to know if there are certain areas of screenwriting you are having trouble with (if any). That, too, could steer me in the direction of some different--and more relavant--sources for you.

Sincerely,

Michael Paxton

I've read Rand's writings on fiction (Art of Fiction; RM; etc.) but there's not much devoted

specifically to screenwriting of which I'm aware. (I understand that she considers the basic

principles of drama to be at the root of all the forms.) I'm taking classes at NYU and I've

read many of the screenwriting "classics" from Field, McKee, Hunter and others. Most all

of these promote the idea that film is a primarily visual medium as well as encouraging a

formulaic approach to writing -- Aristotle's three acts are broken down into subsections

where certain things must appear at a certain page number. My instructors at NYU express

the same sentiment where words are a distant second to the visual --i.e.; show, but dont tell.

Do you have any better book/course/instructor recommendations for the art of screenwriting?

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Thanks for the reply.

I’m taking courses at SCPS; there’s certificate to be had but that’s of secondary importance to me. (I’m the one who wrote the “DIY or Film School” post some months ago. ) I thought this was a more cost effective way to assess the viability of their 4 year program; some of my instructors/courses overlap there. I could give the specific instructors/courses offline if that is critical; but I’ll say that the track spans from the basics of the craft to classes specifically devoted to dialogue, scene structure, then some development workshops that culminate in one-on-one sessions (Master Class) with an instructor. I’ve also written, directed, shot and edited a couple of short films as projects for other courses since that first post.

I havent had any problems learning and applying the concepts being taught. In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, but I’m only writing to suit the requirements of my classes -- and for that reason I’m

not too attached to the work I’ve done thus far. From my understanding of the process, the screenplay is merely a blueprint that will be revised over and over again by others (or their suggestions) until it fits into

a marketable template. Although criticism can be very helpful, the collaborative aspect is difficult for me to swallow at times. Unless you can produce and direct the project yourself, I cannot imagine the finished product resembling the original intention of you the writer. For that reason, and knowing how Rand handled editors and book publishers, I was always curious to know how she handled these issues during her screenwriting career.

Anyway, I’m looking for quality resources in any form (book, course, teacher, etc) that might provide a different perspective -- or at least something more challenging than what seems to be a cookie cutter approach.

p.s. I did read a book called “The Screenplay as Literature” by Douglas Garrett Winston that was

interesting despite lauding some films and writers that I don’t like.

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Hi,

I'm very sorry for the delayed reply, but I had a few writing deadlines to meet this week.

It sounds like you've done a lot of work reading up on screenwriting techniques and that you have a solid foundation of experience in the filmmaking process. I'm not familiar with "The Screenplay of Literature" and I have to admit that I'm not an authority on all the books on the subject that are out there. I did listen to the McGee course and found some helpful ideas/principles there. I also used a book called, "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" by Viki King (where she puts forth her "Inner Movie Method" and how to write "from the heart") once. It was somewhat helpful in jump-starting the writing process and had some good things to say. Ultimately, I haven't found (nor have I looked too hard for) a book or course that is a foolproof, be-all and end-all to writing scripts. Ayn Rand's "The Art of Fiction" (and, even, "The Art of Non-Fiction") has more valid and essential things to say about writing than most things I’ve come across. So, I’m afraid I’m not much practical help here. I just don’t subscribe to the fact that certain things have to be developed by certain pages, etc. I believe that a story (for the motion picture medium) can be successfully told in a linear or non-linear fashion, and can build in an infinite number of ways on the page. It doesn’t mean that following those tried and true rules devised by the various writing gurus won’t work; it just means that you can successfully write “outside the box” as well. As long as you understand and know how to develop character and story properly, a unique “template” for a script can emerge.

That being said, I do want to comment on your understanding that “…the screenplay is merely a blueprint…,” etc. Although I do think that the “script as blueprint” metaphor is a good one, saying that the screenplay is “merely a blueprint…” contradicts the very concept of what a blueprint is. Consider the building for the Manhattan Bank Company that Howard Roark is asked to “adapt” for a more publicly acceptable “look.” Roark is not asked to change the blueprint or the principles upon which the building would be built, only the way the building looks (its façade). The clients know the value of Roark’s sound designs—they’re innovative and they WORK. It’s the same with a script; if the theme, story, characters, dialogue, etc. are successfully integrated, the script is a blueprint that WORKS. A script is not only the concept and design of a film—it is the essence of it. Therefore, in my mind, a script isn’t “merely” anything; it is ESSENTIAL to a film’s identity (whether that identity was achieved by many collaborators, marketing executives, head of studios, or by one screenwriter). Regardless of how many (or who) has written a script, the quality and caliber of that script is solely dependent on the author(s)’ ability to communicate a theme and tell a story in a way that is compelling and entertaining. This entails creating all the elements necessary to do this—characters, dialogue, historical context, etc.--in a way that best serves the theme and story. Therefore, I would say, that to the extant a writer does a good job of writing a script and how much of that same script is preserved through to the editing process (and handled appropriately by the director), the movie will retain the script’s identity (and quality). However, going back to the Roark example, even though his blueprints for the bank would remain intact and only certain aesthetic elements would be altered, he still rejects the commission. The aesthetic designs were originally included in his blueprints and considered essential to his vision of the building. Roark knows that the changes would destroy the INTEGRITY of the building (even though the building could still be successfully built with an inappropriate façade). Likewise, a screenplay--as the essential foundation of a film--is subject to the same threats to its integrity. Since a screenplay is not a film until it is produced and directed onto the screen, there are many things which can alter the way the film will “look” (and “sound”) by the time it becomes an actual film. But, if the script remains in tact (that is, with all the plot points, transitions, characters and dialogue) when it becomes the film, the film should retain the essence of the script it was based on (the blueprint). This becomes more difficult to achieve when executives, actors, agents, and/or whoever else has the power to interfere throw their two cents into a script that they did not initially conceive (and probably don’t really understand). I think this is the model of the kind of script “…that will be revised over and over again by others (or their suggestions) until it fits into a marketable template” that you mention. As we’ve seen many times, this can prove to be fatal. More often than not, it just creates a mediocre script (and, ultimately, motion picture). The director, the actors, cinematographer, composer, etc., can always add to or detract from what has been written on the page. But it’s the director (above everyone else) whose responsibility it is to ensure that the vision of the script is retained. The director guides the cast and crew to make real what the script has already accomplished on paper (and “in theory,” so to speak). Of course, you could maintain all the elements from a wonderful script and the film might still end up betraying the essence of its blueprint (just as an inferior building can be built from brilliant blueprints if the plans are not followed properly). Neither the building, nor the film will live up to its potential (or stand the test of time).

Sadly, the “marketable template” process you refer to is a process that many studios have adopted as the way to make their movies. I don’t recommend or respect this process, as I think it places arbitrary (and artificial) demands on films. Writing by committee based on the current marketplace is not my idea of a proper artistic process, and all you need do is look at the caliber of many of the films that are made today to see the results of that process. [Having worked for Disney when they didn’t do the “writing by committee” thing (“The Little Mermaid”) and when they did it completely (“The Lion King 1 ½”), I saw the difference between the two processes played out first-hand.]

Well, I guess I went off on a tangent and didn’t give you any sources to go to for help! I’m truly sorry about that. Here’s hoping that there are some really good screenwriting source books or software out there and I just haven’t stumbled upon them yet. Regardless, I wish you continued success on your journey through the screenwriting and movie-making process.

Cheers,

Michael Paxton

Thanks for the reply.

I’m taking courses at SCPS; there’s certificate to be had but that’s of secondary importance to me. (I’m the one who wrote the “DIY or Film School” post some months ago. ) I thought this was a more cost effective way to assess the viability of their 4 year program; some of my instructors/courses overlap there. I could give the specific instructors/courses offline if that is critical; but I’ll say that the track spans from the basics of the craft to classes specifically devoted to dialogue, scene structure, then some development workshops that culminate in one-on-one sessions (Master Class) with an instructor. I’ve also written, directed, shot and edited a couple of short films as projects for other courses since that first post.

I havent had any problems learning and applying the concepts being taught. In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, but I’m only writing to suit the requirements of my classes -- and for that reason I’m

not too attached to the work I’ve done thus far. From my understanding of the process, the screenplay is merely a blueprint that will be revised over and over again by others (or their suggestions) until it fits into

a marketable template. Although criticism can be very helpful, the collaborative aspect is difficult for me to swallow at times. Unless you can produce and direct the project yourself, I cannot imagine the finished product resembling the original intention of you the writer. For that reason, and knowing how Rand handled editors and book publishers, I was always curious to know how she handled these issues during her screenwriting career.

Anyway, I’m looking for quality resources in any form (book, course, teacher, etc) that might provide a different perspective -- or at least something more challenging than what seems to be a cookie cutter approach.

p.s. I did read a book called “The Screenplay as Literature” by Douglas Garrett Winston that was

interesting despite lauding some films and writers that I don’t like.

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